The emergence of cellular PVC trim swept the Northeast when it was introduced there more than two decades ago. In a region where vertical grain cedar was the top choice for more than a century, old ways of building were expected to die hard—and they have. To this day, many remodelers and contractors in Boston, Providence, Hartford, et. al. insist on cedar trim when they build additions or conduct exterior renovations. But economics, as it always does, took over. The price of cedar rose to levels approaching cellular PVC. And when you add back the cost of maintenance, the new material took hold.
The obvious benefits are low maintenance, dimensional stability, and zero risk for rot or insect infestation. Cellular PVC is also innately familiar to most carpenters. In short it can be handled like wood, notes Jonathan Wierengo, vice president of marketing and sales support for Boral Light Building Products which includes The Tapco Group, Kleer Lumber and Boral’s TruExterior products.
“The product is very versatile. It can be routed, cut and fastened,” Wierengo says. “And you can bend it.” It can be bent with the use of a heat blanket, offering a greatly simplified way to add trim around radius top windows, to name just one situation solved by bending trim.
The category was pioneered by AZEK and a handful of companies that entered the category in the early 2000s—Versatex, CertainTeed with its Restoration Millwork brand, Kleer, Royal Building Products, and later Palram with its Palight product line. It is an understatement to say the category is competitive, but the trim market offers so much top-line potential that the tide is lifting all boats as each firm innovates and continually adds new features and benefits to the collective offering.
Where once carpenters used miter saws on-site to cut a 45-degree angle to fabricate columns and window surrounds, or created cutouts and J-Pockets to better fit against flanges and lap siding, today the product is often precut and prerouted, says Doug Mucher, senior manager for outdoor living and trim with CertainTeed Corp.
“The focus is on the engineered systems,” Mucher says. “What can we do to make the installation easier and better looking? So all of a sudden you don’t have any nails on the surface anymore. Now you’ve got J-Pocket Trim Boards. You’ve got the fascia trim boards with the return leg already done. All this stuff is done at the factory, so when the installer gets it, all they need to do is install the material and the cutouts for the replacement windows. It is a lot of engineered stuff just to make it easier for the contractor.”
Nearly all PVC trim manufacturers offer enhanced engineering to reduce install time and increase the benefits associated with the category. Less time cutting and mitering means shorter install times, faster job turns and, in the end, more profit. Two years ago, CertainTeed added its INhanced line of trim to push the limits of engineering benefits. The line offers bracket-mounted trim to completely obscure its fastening system. And where cortex hidden fasteners and plugs remain very useful, there is a real attractiveness to zero-blemish boards. Off the record, look for others to follow suit with new hidden fastening systems this fall.
The vast majority of all PVC trim is white, and that is the way it is presented in the majority of its applications today. After all, white trim is a traditional look that is hard to beat. Gradually, however, it is being covered by a wide variety of paint colors. Paint adheres well to cellular PVC, particularly when it is given a light scuff with sandpaper prior to its application. Leading paint companies see a bright
future for cellular PVC and have added specialized formulations that perform well on vinyl substrates.
“As we look at different types of homes now utilizing PVC trim as more contractors convert, and you look at trends throughout different geographies, we are starting to see dark blue, black, more of a return to the brown trim that complement styles like Tudor,” notes Julia
Fitzgerald, chief marketing officer for AZEK Building Products Inc. “So we are starting to see color reappear in trim. It is a myth that you used to think that you could either go PVC or you could have color. With performance paints designed for PVC, you can have colored and painted PVC as well. You can actually have the best of both these trends.”
Sherwin-Williams, PPG and Benjamin Moore are just a few of the coatings firms getting in the act. Sherwin-Williams offers several dozen colors in its line of VinylSafe paints. There are clear warnings by cellular PVC makers to avoid using very dark colors that tend to retain the sun’s daytime heat and ultimately perform poorly over time. Measured on the scale of light reflective value (LRV), readings over 55 are not encouraged. A smaller Canadian coatings firm, AquaSurTech, also gets high marks for its line of paints for vinyl and PVC products.
Palram, an Israeli firm with operations in the U.S., offers the only line of cellular PVC trim, Palight, that is extruded with color throughout a selection of its boards. The Color2Core option on Palight dimensional trim boards offers two colors: sand and clay (which are tan and gray, respectively). The colors have been a hit with contractors and their clients looking for a different but complementary look to their windows and doors, notes Stan Zukowski, product manager for Palight. According to Zukowski, the company is aiming to expand the Color2Core offering to include a wider selection of trim board profiles in the near future.
Versatex is innovating with color as well. It now offers exotic wood-tone colors for its bead-board product that is designed specifically for porch ceilings, where dark wood colors are called for in traditional design, says Rick Kapres, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.
“We’ve taken our traditional bead-board profile and have teamed up with a manufacturer of an exterior-grade laminate that has been used in the window lineal business for years,” says Kapres of Versatex’s new line, called Canvas. “It is very durable. It will not flake off. And we’ve duplicated the look of black cherry, macore and walnut in a WP4 for a porch ceiling. We’ve got a lifetime warranty on the substrate and a 10-year warranty on the laminate. So it is a low-maintenance look.”
New and Custom Profiles
Versatex is also up and running with a new custom millwork program. Called Versatexural, it enables remodelers and contractors to
send custom drawings to the company’s team of engineers and designers, who then supply a quote to a local LBM dealer for delivery of a custom-made cellular PVC profile. But the company is also adding new profiles to be widely available at stocking dealers. One is a new shiplap profile, a traditional look that is gaining in popularity. In addition, the company now offers two types of off-the-shelf column wraps—a traditional square configuration and one with a raised-panel look.
And perhaps the most natural outcome in the evolution of cellular PVC trim and board is its expanded use in other exterior projects, particularly those related to outdoor living. Shading structures like trellises and pergolas are increasingly fabricated on-site by finish carpenters. Even outdoor living companies like Walpole Inc., which prefabricates pergolas and the like, now use cellular PVC to construct their products, explains AZEK’s Fitzgerald. “The AZEK product can be milled, and it can be used in many different ways. What we are seeing is an extension of the traditional trim into applications.”
Wirengo cited the same phenomenon at Kleer. Yes, the company is continually adding new architectural profiles to match traditional American residential architecture, from Craftsman style to Prairie, but carpenters are also getting creative—building everything from flower boxes to bird houses. “And if you’ve got a radius on the side of a house, you can create an entire arch, which is very easy to do.”
The Big Reveal
One of the only knocks on cellular PVC trim is how easily it tends to show dirt and dust as the boards travel from factory to distributor to dealer to jobsite. Most PVC trim manufacturers have solved this problem by covering up their boards with wraps that often stay in place until after the trim is installed.
Palight calls its branded wrap EverClean. For several years, Zukowski says, the company has been wrapping its standard sized boards. Now the plan is to expand the use of the removable packages on most SKUs it sells—from column wraps to specialty profiles and mouldings. “It is a tough industry to have competitive differentiators, so we are trying to push forward with our EverClean film as one of our key benefits. The product goes from a dealer to a jobsite, and then it gets moved around all over the jobsite. You can’t have guys on an active jobsite wearing white gloves.”
Some contractors have found that revealing sterling white boards at the end of a job for the first time can have a huge impact on client satisfaction. This stands to reason. If the branded wrap stays on the boards during installation, it’s hard to appreciate the full aesthetic value until wraps are removed. One manufacturer tells of a contractor who invites his clients out to help pull the wraps off the trim boards at the end. They are in on the reveal, and it helps them understand they are getting a finished product that is new and pristine.
Nearly every cellular PVC manufacturer is now looking ahead at new features and benefits that will be available in the near term with announcements coming at the Remodeling Show in Nashville, Oct. 25-27, or at the International Builders Show (IBS) in Orlando, Jan. 9-11. There will be new fastening systems, a greater breadth of architectural profiles, and enhancements to existing customer loyalty programs.
These days it is common to see companies offering mobile app-based systems that allow remodelers and contractors to take photos of their purchases and get credits that lead to merchandise purchases and marketing support for everything from website enhancements to truck signage.
These coming enhancements will only serve to expand the ranks of remodelers and contractors who permanently convert from using wood trim to more durable and low-maintenance trim products like cellular PVC. Though these products are available nationwide, their widest use is in coastal regions of the East and South, as well as in the upper Midwest and Northeast. But it will not be long before the market rapidly expands in the dryer climates of the Southwest. |QR